Our current understanding of immunology was largely defined in laboratory mice because of experimental advantages including inbred homogeneity, tools for genetic manipulation, the ability to perform kinetic tissue analyses starting with the onset of disease, and tractable models. Comparably reductionist experiments are neither technically nor ethically possible in humans. Despite revealing many fundamental principals of immunology, there is growing concern that mice fail to capture relevant aspects of the human immune system, which may account for failures to translate disease treatments from bench to bedside 1–8 . Laboratory mice live in abnormally hygienic “specific pathogen free” (SPF) barrier facilities. Here we show that the standard practice of laboratory mouse husbandry has profound effects on the immune system and that environmental changes result in better recapitulation of features of adult humans. Laboratory mice lack effector-differentiated and mucosally distributed memory T cells, which more closely resembles neonatal than adult humans. These cell populations were present in free-living barn populations of feral mice, pet store mice with diverse microbial experience, and were induced in laboratory mice after co-housing with pet store mice, suggesting a role for environment. Consequences of altering mouse housing profoundly impacted the cellular composition of the innate and adaptive immune system and resulted in global changes in blood cell gene expression patterns that more closely aligned with immune signatures of adult humans rather than neonates, altered the mouse’s resistance to infection, and impacted T cell differentiation to a de novo viral infection. These data highlight the impact of environment on the basal immune state and response to infection and suggest that restoring physiological microbial exposure in laboratory mice could provide a relevant tool for modeling immunological events in free-living organisms, including humans.